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State v. Ainsworth

Supreme Court of Utah

September 5, 2017

State of Utah Petitioner,
v.
Thomas Randall Ainsworth Respondent.

         On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals

          Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Jeffrey S. Gray, Asst. Solic. Gen., Sandi Johnson, Salt Lake City, for petitioner.

          Lori J. Seppi, David P.S. Mack, Salt Lake City, for respondent.

          Associate Chief Justice Lee authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Justice Durham, Justice Pearce, and Judge Powell joined.

          Having recused himself, Justice Himonas does not participate herein; Fourth District Court Judge Kraig J. Powell sat.

          OPINION

          LEE, ASSOCIATE CHIEF JUSTICE

         ¶1 The Utah Code prescribes two sets of offenses for drivers who cause death or serious bodily injury with alcohol or drugs in their system. Under the DUI provisions of the code it is a third degree felony to cause death or serious bodily injury while under the influence of alcohol or any drug "to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle."[1] The "measurable substance" provisions set forth a related offense. Under these provisions it is a second degree felony to cause death or serious bodily injury with any "measurable" amount of a Schedule I or Schedule II drug in the person's body.[2]

         ¶2 Thomas Ainsworth challenges the constitutionality of these provisions. Ainsworth was convicted of three second degree felonies under the measurable substance provisions. But he asserts constitutional grounds for a reduction of each charge to a third degree felony under the DUI provisions. And he also challenges the decision to impose consecutive sentences for the three counts against him.

         ¶3 The court of appeals agreed with Ainsworth in part. It deemed the measurable substance crime a "lesser offense" because the measurable substance provisions do not require proof of a driver's impairment. With this in mind, the court of appeals concluded that the classification of Ainsworth's crimes as second degree felonies under the measurable substance provisions ran afoul of the Uniform Operation of Laws Clause of the Utah Constitution. And it accordingly vacated Ainsworth's convictions and remanded for the entry of third degree felony convictions and for resentencing. In so doing, however, the court of appeals rejected Ainsworth's challenge to the imposition of consecutive sentences, affirming the district court's sentencing to that degree.

         ¶4 We reverse in part and affirm in part. First, we uphold the constitutionality of the legislature's classification of offenses in the DUI and measurable substance statutes and reverse the court of appeals' decision vacating Ainsworth's second degree felony convictions under the Uniform Operation of Laws Clause. Second, we affirm the court of appeals' decision upholding the imposition of consecutive sentences for the three counts of conviction. Accordingly, we reinstate the convictions and sentences as entered and imposed against Ainsworth in the district court.

         I

         ¶5 On Christmas Eve 2011, Thomas Ainsworth drove his car over a median and crashed head-on into another vehicle. An 18-month-old boy was killed and both of his parents were seriously injured in the accident.

         ¶6 Ainsworth had methamphetamine in his system at the time of the accident. He was charged with three counts of causing substantial bodily injury or death while negligently driving a car with a measurable amount of a Schedule II controlled substance in his body. The charged offenses were second degree felonies under Utah Code section 58-37-8(2).

         ¶7 Ainsworth moved to amend the charges on constitutional grounds. First, he challenged the classification of his alleged offenses-as second degree felonies-under the measurable substance provisions of the Utah Code. He noted that the alleged offenses would have been classified as third degree felonies if charged under the DUI provisions of the code. And he challenged the rationality of the legislature's decision to increase that classification through the measurable substance provisions under the Uniform Operation of Laws Clause of the Utah Constitution.

         ¶8 Ainsworth also asserted an alternative basis for challenging the measurable substance charges under the Uniform Operation of Laws Clause. He noted that the measurable substance provisions recognize a defense for those who have a prescription for the controlled substance, or otherwise use the substance in a legal manner. And he alleged that this amounts to irrational discrimination in favor of those who have a prescription and against those who don't.

         ¶9 The district court rejected both arguments. It upheld the prosecution's decision to classify the charges against Ainsworth as second degree felonies under the measurable substance provisions.

         ¶10 Ainsworth reserved his right to appeal but pled guilty to the three second degree felonies under the measurable substance provisions. The district court then sentenced Ainsworth to three prison terms of one to fifteen years. Over Ainsworth's objection, ...


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